Café Paradiso re-opened three weeks ago under the new hand of Richard Griffin, the fourth restaurant in his Cape Town collection, which now also incorporates the Bombay Bicycle Club, The Sidewalk Café, and Café Mozart.   We wrote recently about Griffin’s talent in turning around existing restaurants, and giving them his restaurant magic.

Café Paradiso has no apparent Griffin decor quirks to make it appear different or improved – it has the most beautiful landscape of all in its dramatic view onto Table Mountain from the outside terrace area, fully occupied last night with more patrons queuing for tables.   We were extremely grateful to Peta, the manager of Café Mozart, who happened to arrive at the same time as we did, and who helped to wave her magic wand to organise a table for us with Myra, the Spanish hostess.   And what a table it was outside.   The infamous Cape Town Southeaster was an angel, and stayed away, making it a magical evening.  Griffin has turned the previous smoking-area of the restaurant into the new kitchen, while the old kitchen at the back is a Madame Zingara test kitchen, bakery, an home-made pasta section, of which Angus is in charge, as well as a section in which butter is made.  Whilst I was wandering through inside the restaurant, the Executive Chef Heinrich came up to me to say hello (this is how friendly the staff are), and told me that he was the chef at the original Café Paradiso ten years ago.  He looked very happy to be back “home”.   So what has changed?  Not much, other than the kitchen changes – there seem to be more tables outside than I can recall.   The pin oaks in the courtyard have grown, offering excellent shade.  The lighting inside was far darker than I recall it.   Surprisingly, there was no music, a missing finishing touch, in my opinion.   I was bowled over when the hostess Myra welcomed me by name, remembering me from the Madame Zingara restaurant in Loop Street more than five years ago!

Our waiter John brought the jug of water, which looked extra refreshing with orange and lemon slices and ice, as well as the creamish A4 paper menu and winelist printed on reverse sides of the sheet.  The table cloth is a material one, and therefore the paper serviettes were a disappointment.  Olive oil and balsamic vinegar are from Olyfberg.  The restricted menu and winelist choice makes it easier to choose what to order.   The menu starts with “Beautiful Day” and ends with “Beautiful Night”, and states that “This store lovingly created by The Royal Countess Madame Zingara”, clearly a ‘promotion’ for the Madame!   John brought two beautiful slices of home-baked wholewheat seed-topped bread, and I was lucky enough to get the end crust.   The menu starts with the breakfast collection (served until a respectable midday), and as at Café Mozart, there are some quirky sounding items on the breakfast list, including scrambled egg with rosti, feta, avocado and tomato;  and French toast with grilled haloumi, basil pesto and tomato, both R45.   I’ll be back for the poached eggs with spinach, hollandaise sauce and smokehouse salmon (R55).  There is a choice of four sandwiches, and the young ones are not neglected, with chicken nuggets and lasagne, and “fish fingers royale”.  

Antipasti can be ordered, at R60 for one, or shared at R90 for two, either a meat/cheese one (proscuitto, coppa, salami felino, pecorino, bocconcini, with olives, caperberries and rocket) or a vegetarian one.  Starters include mussels, squid, haloumi, and black risotto with chorizo, none costing more than R50.  Salads (R45 – R60) sound unusual and interesting, the Greek salad being the only standard.   Eight pasta dishes are offered, in a range of R 50 – R65, even with a ‘Ravioli del giorno’, which was filled with wild mushrooms last night, sprinkled with olives, pinenuts, rocket, and parmesan shavings, and served with a tasty white wine sauce. There are only five main course choices: rack of veal stuffed with four cheeses at R145; an ‘organic sirloin’ at R135; “feathered steak” (as I understood it, parma ham is beaten onto the surface of the steak to make it as flat as a feather and then flash fried) at R90; linefish at R89; and a most generous charred lemon and rosemary chicken-half, served with a colourful collection of root vegetables, including sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin and turnips (R85).   A range of familiar sweet treats, cakes, scones, muffins, ice creams, and desserts are offered, costing R25 – 45.  I couldn’t get John to get a frothy cappuccino from the kitchen, but it did come with a biscuit on the side, and the word ‘smile’ on the foam. The cappuccino seemed somewhat more expensive than the going rate, but this is a small price to pay for the excellent value for money of the rest of the meal.  

We were bad news for the sommelier Eron, in not ordering any wines, both being on medication.  He was not switched off, and treated us as long-term customers, and gave us some of his background.   I asked him to consider stating vintages of the wines on offer and the region from which they originate, as well as offering more wines-by-the-glass (there are only two white and two red, and one bubbly by the glass).  The housewine is called Paradise on the menu, costing R22/R85 for the red and the white, but when Eron brought a bottle to the table, it was a label-less bottle, with a neck label stating the name “Unbelievable”, the wines made especially for Café Paradiso by Mount Vernon in Klapmuts.   Fifteen red and white wines each are on offer, a mix of varieties, peaking in price at R175 for Jordan Chardonnay and R210 for Hartenberg “Cabernet”.   Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel costs R30/R155, Graham Beck Brut R185, and Moét & Chandon R650. 

Café Paradiso is a new affordable friendly ‘home from home’ at any time of the day and evening when one is in town, especially on a gorgeous wind-free Cape Town day.   I’ll be back.

Café Paradiso, 110 Kloof Street, Cape Town.   Tel (021) 423-8653.  www.cafeparadiso.co.za  (website goes to www.madamezingara.comsite, listing all the Griffin ventures, each with their own page – not containing much information, and with few photographs, but the menu and winelist are featured).   Monday – Saturday 8h00 – 22h00, Sunday 8h00 – 14h30.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage